Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Improving Bus Service...

The "3 Cherry" bus in Seattle, Washi...Image via WikipediaThe Transit Sleuth twitted a question: " “Hmm, what would increase bus ridership in Seattle? I want to create a top 10 list. :)”

The Seattle Transit Blog responded to the twitter:

11 Steps to Bus Ridership

I thought it would be fun to look at the Seattle list and see how it would apply to the UTA. So here is the answers from the Seattle Transit Blog and my response on how they would apply to us.

1. More density. Density begets ridership.

As I have discussed we need to add smart density to both transit stations and to areas with good bus service and that will help increase ridership. By increasing ridership on the busy lines by adding new riders, the cost of those services will go down allowing funds to be used for other services that we cannot currently afford.

I have previously discussed how we need to build smart developments along the major 15-minute bus routes especially in areas where those 15-minute routes intersect.

2. Bus lanes and signal priority. Slow buses are a frequent complaint.

Well signal priority would be nice but I don't see it happening on a region wide basis. I also don't see bus lanes being addapted in many areas except maybe in the downtown area. Once again what we really need to do now that we have a majority of routes served by low floor buses (and almost exclusively by low floors in the next couple of years), is to make boarding and discharging faster. This can be done by making bus stops level with the floors on the low floor buses and also cutting out bus stops that are too close together.

3. Higher gas prices. Tackle the demand side. See 2008.

Of course higher gas prices also affect transit since they use fuel. I will not even get into a discussion of the true cost our lust for fuel has cost us as a nation. However, what we do know as China starts to lust after oil even more than we do, we are going to come to a reckoning of the true cost of gasoline and its hidden costs that we have not had to face before.

4. An end to socialized and/or regulated parking, possibly a higher commercial parking tax.

A parking tax would be one way to pay for the city of Salt Lake buses I mentioned before or could be used to provide additional UTA service in the area and improved pedestrian access to the core.

However, the cost of parking can be such a polarizing issue as people don't equate that their parking at the suburban malls are subsidized by the retailers giving them that wonderful free parking that they complain about paying anywhere else.

5. A
branded frequent-service network. RapidRide is a start.

Well we do have a dedicated 15-minute service and UTA has wrapped a couple of buses promoting it, but beyond that UTA has done little to brand the 15-minute service. We also have MAX but as I have pointed out just recently, UTA is not doing well with that one either.

6. More frequency, particularly East-West. Too many dense places in the city are too far apart by bus.

Anyone who knows the geography of Seattle can see how east-west routes are difficult to service and need special attention and while we do not have those kinds of problems in Salt Lake County, our friends to the north and south in Utah, Weber and Davis counties do have those kinds of issues.

An additional problem in these counties the lack of density making providing bus service even more difficult. The best solution for the Bountiful area would be a Call N Ride service similar to the ones in Denver that will provide guaranteed connections to Routes 455, 470 and Front Runner.

In Ogden area we have the 603 and 640 that do provide some semblance of north-south service but eventually routes need to be added to the north. The problem is the route will probably have to be a modified U-shaped route or giant S.


7. Payment reform. This is also part of speeding things up. More off-board payment would help. Popularizing ORCA through a small fare discount would speed adoption and boarding time. There are couple of ways to get rid of the pay-as-you-leave policy, but the important thing is to introduce the board in front/get off in the back and improve flow on the buses.

The ORCA card in Seattle is the Tap On or what ever they call it card here in Utah. The card seems to working pretty good here in Utah as I have only seen one bus recently that was having problems with it. The problem of course is the few number of people using it.

As many regular readers of this blog know, I do not have a problem with eliminating the fare free zone in the downtown area. We could do what Portland has done and make it apply to rail only, but it also could go away. By eliminating the zone all every bus would be pay as you enter causing less confusion for customers and eliminating the slow process of getting passengers on and off leaving on buses leaving downtown.

8. More presence by transit security.

Agreed, more presence both on TRAX, the stations and on buses would make customers feel more secure.

9. Real-time arrival where possible. GPS is being installed over the next year and will improve the accuracy of onebusaway, but RapidRide is the only part of the system that is planning message boards at stops.

10. Stop consolidation.

Metro in Seattle has been consolidating bus stops on several several routes recently. While some oppose it, I can see places where it needs to be done both there and here in Utah. There is many spots where stops are too close together and could be moved farther apart speeding up bus service along with other actions as mentioned above.

11. More standing room on crowded routes.

Anyone who rides frequently in Seattle knows that the buses can be packed. Here in Utah we usually don't have that problem although even routes such as the 213 can be packed when Cottonwood High lets out.

However we have not reached the point where standing room only is an issue for an extended period of time but will be great when it does.
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